Like I’ve been saying…

As an Atlantic City native who wrote a book on the evolution of the casino resort, I’ve got some definite thoughts about the role of casinos in urban redevelopment. Now, a year and a half after the publication of Suburban Xanadu, some people in my hometown might be starting to see the light.

From the LV Sun:

The old photographs that the casino operators cherish offer a study in contrasts. Immense buildings white as snow jut up from the Boardwalk today, most of them presenting sheer, blank walls to passers-by. But the old Boardwalk was lined with brick and stone hotels that had tiled arcades, windows that gave a view in and out, bits of green grass and, as the new standards put it, “active facades” — stores, entrances, windows and semipublic areas.

“By comparison,” the development authority’s analysis concluded, “most existing casino hotels have few entry points and many linear feet of inaccessible interior.”

Several casinos, indeed, have one of the city’s most puzzling architectural features — nooks designed to look like doors, with glass walls and awnings, that are not doors. Judging by the scene on Pacific Avenue, the first street back from the Boardwalk, many newcomers spend their first moments in town looking for entrances to the casinos.

The Boardwalk casinos look the way they do because they were built by Las Vegas casino operators, said Michael Calafati, a partner with Historic Building Architects, of Trenton, who created a design inventory of the Boardwalk and drew up the new guidelines.

“They took a model that worked very well in the desert of the Southwest and plopped down these big boxes on the Boardwalk,” Calafati said. “Financially they were a success, but the image is really anemic compared to Atlantic City’s heyday.”

The loss of many of the old hotels and their friendly scale also occurred, Bashaw said, because of the shock New Jersey leaders felt when the national news media came to Atlantic City for the 1964 Democratic nominating convention, and reported to the nation that “America’s Playground,” as the city had styled itself, had become a slum.

“The feeling was, just tear it down,” Bashaw said.

The new design rules are not intended to create a museum, only a more historically accurate cityscape along the Boardwalk, and one that is more inviting to strollers. “Back to a sense of the city that celebrated people-watching, and general pedestrian activities,” Calafati said.

The first tangible step back to the Boardwalk design of old Atlantic City was taken when the Showboat agreed to meet the new standards by changing the design for the marquee and the entrance to the House of Blues.

“Our first design was very Las Vegas-like,” said Dave Jonas, senior vice president for Atlantic City operations for Harrah’s, which also runs the Showboat. “It was very modern, with very sharp angles and lots of stucco; it was kind of cold. Curtis asked us to make some changes, and we came up with a design that was more modern, with softer corners and natural stone. And instead of a wall, we’re putting in windows, so we get light coming into the casino, and we make the entrance more inviting.”

Farther “down beach” from the Showboat, Bernard E. DeLury Jr., executive vice president of Caesars Entertainment, is thinking about ways to apply the design guidelines for repair work on the Claridge hotel, a survivor from the city’s golden age and part of Caesars’ three Boardwalk properties.

“Instead of doing a slab dab paint job on the Claridge, we’re thinking, let’s move with a view toward preservation, of looking up there and seeing what’s there — taking off encrustations that were added, but getting the same functionality — something that’s closer to original design,” he said.

Las Vegas SUN: Atlantic City turns to history for image

I hit on the redevelopment rules earlier. Basically, my take is this:

Casino resorts, as they developed on the Las Vegas Strip over the past 50 years, are fundamentally incompatible with urban space.

Fixing this major structural incompatability requires more than a faux stone finish or actual doors and windows.

I wish that I could say that I was optimistic about the future prospects in AC, but given the past, I have no reason to be.

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